Scholar and author Christina Hoff Sommers, who works for the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, has a piece on the Chronicle of Higher Education's Web site. It's not surprising that Hoff Sommers -- who has drawn the ire of liberal feminists for years by espousing a contrarian difference theory that suggests, among other things, that boys have been disadvantaged by attempts to achieve gender equality in the classroom -- takes a large chunk of feminist literature to task in her missive. Nor do I disagree with the main thrust of her piece: that facts take a backseat to passion in many feminist tomes/classroom discussions, thereby undermining what could be well-reasoned arguments about women's status in America and internationally.
"My complaint with feminist research is not so much that the authors
make mistakes; it is that the mistakes are impervious to reasoned
criticism. They do not get corrected. The authors are passionately
committed to the proposition that American women are oppressed and
under siege. The scholars seize and hold on for dear life to any piece
of data that appears to corroborate their dire worldview. At the same
time, any critic who attempts to correct the false assumptions is
dismissed as a backlasher and an anti-feminist crank."
BUT -- but! She moves too quickly to connect poor scholarship with poor policy. After citing several examples of overused, factually questionable tropes that come up again and again in feminist books and discussion, Hoff Sommers goes on to make three points. One is that bad scholarship works against "the credibility and effectiveness of feminism." Okay, check. Her third point is mostly self-defense (shoddy intellectualism hurts feelings, folks!). But here's her second conclusion (apologies for the long quotation, and emphases added):
"Over the years, the feminist fictions have made their way into
public policy. They travel from the women's-studies textbooks to
women's advocacy groups and then into news stories. Soon after, they
are cited by concerned political leaders. President Obama recently
issued an executive order establishing a White House Council on Women
and Girls [in March, Maine rep Chellie Pingree attended the signing of the order]. As he explained, "The purpose of this council is to ensure
that American women and girls are treated fairly in all matters of
public policy." He and Congress are also poised to use the celebrated
Title IX gender-equity law to counter discrimination not only in
college athletics but also in college math and science programs, where,
it is alleged, women face a "chilly climate." The president and members
of Congress can cite decades of women's-studies scholarship that
presents women as the have-nots of our society. Never mind that this is
largely no longer true. Nearly every fact that could be marshaled to
justify the formation of the White House Council on Women and Girls or
the new focus of Title IX application was shaped by scholarly merchants
of hype like Professors Lemon and Seager."
I know that she probably had a word limit and everything, but really?? It's quite a leap to say that because some feminist scholars misuse an old and probably inaccurate statistic relating domestic violence to miscarriages, the creation of the White House Council on Women and Girls is somehow unnecessary. It's true that equating the treatment of women in some third world countries (where they can be beaten for adultery or raped without consequence) with the status of women in America (this is a comparison that one feminist theory textbook makes) is reductive, inaccurate, and suggests a disconnect with reality. But Hoff Sommers' declaration that it's "no longer true" that many women face economic or cultural "have-not" status in the United States is just as far removed from the truth.
The happy medium? Let's use good science to explain why the White House Council on Women and Girls is still necessary, in America, in this day and age.